"For example, maybe something comes up in a TV show where somebody has to make a medical decision for somebody else," he says. "That might be an opportunity to turn and say, 'If I were in this position, this is what I would want.’ The living will memorializes wishes concerning end of life care, and having a conversation about those wishes serves to make them clear to family members.”
It was important for my grandmother to make it known, both on paper and to her family, what she wanted in case there came a day when she couldn't tell us. She was only in her 60s when she drafted her living will, but because she traveled so often, she wanted to make her wishes clear, just in case. She chose my mother to carry it out. This person should be chosen carefully, according to Dr. Maria Carney, chief for the Division of Geriatrics and Palliative Medicine at Northwell Health, and should be strategic.
"Make sure you’re selecting someone who knows what your goals are, who will advocate for what you want," she says, "even if they don't agree with them." Even if everyone in your family is well aware of where to find your living will—to the point that the conversation becomes a running joke—Dr. Carney says having extras is still a smart move. "Have multiple copies for multiple people so that you always know where it is," she suggests.
My grandmother has four children--my mom being the oldest. When choosing who she'd trust with the living will, she went with who she knew would be able to do what she wanted.
"Everybody who has kids knows they're all so different," my mom told me. "You try to pick the one who's going to carry out your wishes. It's not a matter of who's better or who's not."
"Plus, your Aunt Doreen would probably stuff me and ride around in the car with me if she could," my grandmother joked.
That sense of humor, my mom says, made talking about my grandma's last wishes much easier. "It's a hard conversation to have," she told me. "Nobody wants to think about it, but certain things have to be in place if you're going to go out of this world the way you want to."
As my grandmother nears 81, everything is in place in her living will, which is placed neatly in the sock drawer where it has been for the past few decades. And when it comes time to make tough calls about her health, my mom feels prepared.
"No one would be able to change my mind about this,” my mom told me, “because she's been so adamant over the years about what she wants.”